Ultimate Fans, we did it. We - the undying supporters - beat the Chiefs. Oh wait, too many of you were non-believers last week. And I get it. There was a lot of reason not to believe.
But the Broncos and last week’s UFG-er JasonAult16 believed, so you owe them both an apology ;)
And after that, you can enjoy this fabulous UFG midseason review of this team.
While sultan_azteca certainly knows the uphill fight the Broncos have on their schedule the rest of the season, he’s optimistic the team is heading mostly in the right direction (if only Sean Payton will continue to remember that he built this offense to be a running offense!)
Now that the Broncos have beaten the Chiefs, anything seems possible - even a few more wins than expected in the second half of the season.
Week 9: BYE WEEK
MHR - First, what were your emotions throughout the Broncos-Chiefs game last week? How were you feeling at the end?
Sultan_azteca: Even before the start of the game, with all the chaos we have seen going on in the league this season, I couldn’t help but wonder “what if….?” I must confess that after the utterly disappointing loss to the Jets, I took my eye off the (foot)ball and focused on the MLB playoffs (I rooted for the local Astros, as the Rockies are even more hopeless than our dear Broncos). So at the start I was simply following the score on my phone while doing laundry. I only started paying attention and tuned in after the score went 14 - 6 late in the second half. From that point on, it was a roller coaster, with mistakes from both sides, a VJ defense that bent but never broke, and a couple of scoring drives that all but secured the landmark victory. So I would say my emotions grew from disinterest, to mild bemusement, to incredulity, to excitement (laundry socks and underwear went flying in the air after Simmons’ INT!) to sheer elation.
MHR - What was your favorite part about the win over the Chiefs - beating a division rival? Beating the defending champs? Beating the team that had won 16 games in a row against us? The defense beating Patrick Mahomes down?
Sultan_azteca: Not just beating the Champions, but obliterating them! I don’t recall the last time the Broncos vanquished a real contender at its full capacity and in such a convincing manner! I also enjoyed seeing the end of that obnoxious streak. Sean Payton will certainly use that major win in the locker room as a huge motivational tool to mark the beginning of the change (although the breaking point actually happened three weeks earlier, in my opinion).
MHR - There’s a lot of deja vu with this Bye Week. Last year, we were 2-5 before going to London and beating the Jags in Week 8 and then going on a bye at 3-5 with things looking mostly up. Until they weren’t because we only won two more games the entire season. How are you feeling about the Broncos’ chances to continue an upward trend after this year’s week 9 bye?
Sultan_azteca: I believe the Broncos are able to finish better than the 5 - 12 record of 2022. This is, of course, assuming that they can build upon what we just saw last week, and that they remain mostly healthy the rest of the season. As far as “upward trend,” it will be difficult now that they are facing the uphill portion of the schedule, and although I believe they will win a few more games, it will not be enough to put them in playoff contention or maybe even enough for a winning record.
MHR - The Broncos left their roster alone at the trade deadline despite reportedly having an offer of a 3rd and a 5th for Jerry Jeudy. Are you happy the Broncos didn’t take that deal, or do you wish that they had? What message (if any) does NOT trading any players tell this current team?
Sultan_azteca: Some of you already know I am not a big fan of JJ. I would be fine seeing him turned into much-needed draft capital. But if Sean Payton decided to keep him, I hope it is because he already has plans to exploit his very special skillset… and fixing that attitude and dropping issues. I think the message after waiting, arms crossed, for the trade deadline to expire is simple - we’ve got the talent in house to meet our goal for this year. Now, what that goal is, only Sean knows for sure!
MHR - Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin, Samaje Perine. Can this RB group push the running game enough to make some real noise?
Sultan_azteca: It already has, in my opinion, since week 1. The Broncos, without really trying, have the 12th best rushing attack in the league in yards/game, and (check this out) the FOURTH BEST in the league in yards per carry, with 4.8 (only behind MIA, AZ, and NYJ). But for some very strange reason, after successfully deploying the ground attack in the first half of each game, we see Payton abandoning it altogether in each second half, even while ahead in the score. It is one of the most baffling trends I see of Payton’s first season as the Broncos head coach. If Payton realizes (as he just did vs the Chiefs) he himself built this O to be a run-first unit, and sticks to that strategy a full game, I think we could have a rush offense comparable to those of PHI, BAL, or CLE.
MHR - After allowing a team to drop 70 points on it, the Broncos’ defense has steadily improved to the point of being the main reason the Broncos beat the Chiefs last week. What do you account for this - was it getting rid of old bad attitudes (Randy Gregory, Frank Clark)? Was it pride in playing better? Was it VJ developing a better scheme for the opponent?
Sultan_azteca: BEATS ME! That D of the first few weeks was not only the worst in the league this year, but the worst in ages! How can someone turn around such a dumpster fire into a unit capable of giving Mahomes his worst outing since (check this out) Fangio’s Broncos D back in Week 12, 2021 (the only other time Mahomie had a QB rating below 60.0 in a regular or playoff game in the last three seasons. Both vs Denver!?!)
There were multiple factors in play that might have created this dramatic shift. Yes, swapping Gregory and Clark for Browning, Cooper and Bonitto will be a notable improvement going forward. Yes, evidently VJ is more diligent now in tailoring a defensive plan against the foe at hand each week, abandoning his early one-size-fits-all game plan (“if it was good enough for the preseason, it can work for a full season too, right?”). And changes in the composition of the secondary - some evident (out with Mathis and Bassey, in with McMillian and the Island of Dr. Moreau) others less so (PJ Locke for KJack) - have made an immediate impact. Nonetheless, the loss of both Broncos’ D chieftains Simmons and Jewell for the Dolphins game (0% and 26% snaps played, respectively) was probably the single most impactful factor to that historic result than any other one here discussed.
We'll take that.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 3, 2023
Every Broncos takeaway from the first half of the season: pic.twitter.com/tbGsMd1PvR
MHR - Special teams has finally been much improved this season. Not only has it not been a liability, but it has also been a spark for providing good field position and even some takeaways. How do you feel about this unit and its ability to affect the game in a more positive way?
Sultan_azteca: I was optimistic that with Tom McMahon’s dismissal, this team would make a U-turn soon. It actually took Ben Kotwica a preseason plus a regular game to turn things around (I still blame his ST for that Raiders loss in Week 1), but since then they have done an above average job as a group. Lutz is recording better numbers than McManus did last season, although league-wide he is plain average. Riley Dixon is performing well below average, though.
On the other hand, Marvin Mims as KO returner is like day-and-night compared to Montrell Washington. Mims right now has the FIFTH highest KO return yards in the league (204), is one of only THREE returners who average over 30 yards/KO return, one of only TWO returners who have taken it to the house this season (the other is our very own Andrew Beck, now with the Texans), and he is the ONLY punt returner averaging over 20 yards/return! I am a firm believer that such success is not just the result of the individual, but that of a well designed system and a team that puts up the effort and talent to make it happen. So, kudos to them all. Keep it up!
MHR - Some young guys in the secondary have really stepped up, namely PJ Locke and Ja’Quan McMillian, in the wake of Kareem Jackson’s ejection and suspension. Is the young talent in the secondary promising long-term?
Sultan_azteca: Absolutely! I am looking forward to McMillian blossoming into the next Bryce Callahan (minus the injuries, please!), and I ache to see hawkish Riley Moss deployed opposite PSII.
I have not heard much about it, but I bet that Surtain could take those kids under his wing to teach them one or two tricks under his sleeve. Although I was excited for KJack to return (at a bargain price too) to share his leadership and experience with a very young safety group, it is obvious now that the game has already passed him by, and he has little to teach and offer in this new era of football. They do have Simmons as an invaluable mentor, so I expect big things from Locke, DTY, JL Skinner, and (after he returns from IR) proven-commodity-but-injury-prone Caden Sterns.
MHR - At this point in the season, give some grades for the following (can grade as a group or individuals within the group). Add as much or as little explanation with it!
- Russell Wilson: B+ With a 101.7 QB rating, a projected 34TD/8 INT ratio, and 201 yds rushing (8th best among QBs), he is outperforming most of his fellow overpaid QBs around the league. Loses points because of his draft capital cost (although not his fault), …and because of all those sacks!
- Offensive line: A One of the best lines in the league opening lanes for the run game. If only it was used to do just that more often…
- Running backs (Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin): A This is a top-five unit in spite of grossly underutilizing their most explosive piece (McLaughlin, one of only TWO RBs in the league with more than 20 carries and who averages over 7 ypc)
- WRs (Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Marvin Mims): B Same as the RBs, lack of usage of the most entertaining weapon (Mims Jr, one of only THREE receivers in the league averaging +20 yards/catch with more than 200 yards received) takes luster out of this group.
- Secondary: B- I want to see more before giving a verdict
- D-line ? Haven’t paid attention to this one
- Edge rushers: A- With Baron Von Browning (see what I did there?) back, Bonitto, and Cooper, we should expect much improved QB pressure going forward
- Special Teams: A+ (excluding Dixon, he gets a D)
- Will Lutz: B-
MHR - How would you grade Sean Payton? Do you believe he is the right man for this team? Did your opinion change over the past two games?
Sultan_azteca: One thing we must highlight is Payton’s decision to bring Dan Dalrymple to replace Loren Landow as conditioning coach. Under Dalrymple the Broncos are now 15th in number of players in the IR, and 13th in cap space locked in the IR. I don’t even need to mention how the Broncos fared in that regard in prior seasons. So that was a major bullseye hit for SP right there. Now, regarding his game planning, decision making, and personnel decisions, it is a mixed bag. Payton direly underutilizes talent (do we even know what we have in Nate Adkins?), shows consistently inconsistent in-game strategy (if they can’t stop you, keep running the darned ball!!!), and I am not exactly crowning him just yet over his decision to bring VJ as his DC. At the same time, in short notice he turned this offense and his QB 180 degrees, identified and eliminated dead weight from the roster at the darkest moment, and his Broncos finally defeated the FREAKING CHEFS!!! I believe (again and for now) that he is the right man for this team. In conclusion, I give him a B-, because I believe some of his decisions have cost us a couple of wins so far… and because his Broncos finally defeated the FREAKING CHEFS!!!
MHR - Which players would be your midseason MVPs on offense? Defense? ST?
Sultan_azteca: It is a difficult question, but for offense, I would give it to Courtland Sutton and his 6TDs, t-3rd highest in the league among receivers. For Defense, I would give it to Jonathon Cooper, who seems to be able to do it all (39 tackles for 4th best in the team, 4.5 sacks for 2nd best, 2 fumbles recovered and 1 forced, both best in the team, and even one pass defended). For ST, it is a no brainer: rookie Marvin Mims Jr.
MHR - The teams left on the schedule include: Bills, Vikings, Browns, Texans, Chargers (x2), Lions, Patriots, Raiders. What do you think the Broncos’ record will be over those 8 games and which ones do you see as must-wins! Are we back to a path where a winning record seems plausible?
Sultan_azteca: I am not overly optimistic. I will stick to the prediction I made in my last Fan Post at the beginning of the season. Of course, by now I had predicted we would have the opposite record, at 5 - 3, considering it was the “soft side” of the schedule. Now, facing the tougher part of the season, I predicted wins vs HOU, LAC (at home), NE, and LV, all of them probable, with those pesky Texans (BTW, a game I will attend!) being the biggest challenge. I don’t see much of an upside from the other games, other than probably pulling off a W vs a very inconsistent Browns team that has been massively helped by the refs in a couple of games. So, in summary, I expect no more than 7 - 8 wins. Buuuut… after that Chiefs game, anything can happen!
MHR - Earlier this week, Sadaraine made the point, “I think it is healthy to cheer hard for this team, but expect bumps along the way.” Personally, I love this attitude about the team. At most positions, the Broncos are young, and this is a coaching staff designed to build a winner. What is a realistic expectation for Denver in the next three to five years - playoffs?
Sultan_azteca: I could say that, had we gotten the job done vs Raiders and Commies AT HOME, this team would be in the inside lane for a playoff berth right now. What has been so maddening about this Broncos team for a very very VERY long time, is that they seem to be right at the edge of a breakthrough, but somehow they manage to fall flat on their noses as soon as they briefly reach the crest of the wave. It can be attributed to past inexperienced coaching, so I am hopeful that this cycle is broken by someone who seems to know how to get things done. If this team works out the kinks before Week 1, it could be a playoff-caliber team as early as next season. With a few added pieces from the draft next year (leveraging once again in Paton’s scouting strength), it could be in the Super Bowl convo by 2025.
MHR - Just for fun, here’s a Raiders question…was Josh McD more of a disaster at the Raiders or Broncos?
Sultan_azteca: For the Broncos, both! At the Raiders, McDouche won only nine games. Three of them vs the Broncos. Isn’t that a shame?
Total passing yards, passing TDs, rushing yards for Russell Wilson by season’s end? 35 TDs, 3,700 yds passing, 450 yds rushing.
Total yards and touchdowns for the RBs? 2,200 yards rush, 800 yds receiving, 17 TDs (did you know the Broncos have only 1 rush TD this season?!) Just Javonte? 880 yds, 6 TDs
Total yards and touchdowns caught in the WRs (Sutton, Jeudy, Humphrey)? 26 TDs, 2,500 yards
Team totals for sacks, INTs and forced fumbles by season’s end? 40 sacks, 18 INTs, 24 FFs
Who gets the most sacks for the team by Week 18? Tie between Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper
Who ends up with the most tackles? Alex Singleton
Will the Broncos or Jets end up with the better record? Jets by one, the game they got from us.
Final record this season? 8 - 9
Favorite John Elway win outside of the Super Bowls? 1986 AFCC (The legend starts with The Drive)
Favorite Broncos win ever? SB XXXII
Favorite Broncos win between SXXXII and SB50? To me, it is a no contest…XXXII
Favorite Peyton Manning win? Dec 23rd, 2013 Broncos @ Texans. Manning recovers his record of most TDs in a season from the filthy hands of FYTB, by scoring his 51st TD. And I WAS THERE!
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? It was a pleasure beating the Chefs, but we gotta beat those Raiduhs!
Coach you laugh at the most in the NFL? Not sure if laughing, but I am very satisfied seeing Hoodie and his Patsies getting slapped around by the Saints (and many others)!
Coach you most want to throw an egg at? Now that McDouche is gone, no one really.
Team you hate to lose to the most in the rest of the AFC? Steelers
NFC team you could cheer for in the Super Bowl? Lions, definitely Lions
NFC team you want to face more than any other in the Super Bowl? Because the Broncos have never faced a team more than once in eight Super Bowls played, and because I want it to keep going, I would go with the Eagles.
Favorite game looking forward to this season? Versus Texans, which is shaping up to be a much better game than expected (and I WILL BE THERE!)
Easiest game left on the schedule? Hard to tell… Patriots maybe?
Toughest game left on the schedule? @ Lions
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Hard to tell, but I will go with McLaughlin
Favorite Broncos player of all time not named John Elway? Another hard question! But I will go with TD30
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? McLaughlin
Food/Snack you have to eat on game day? None in particular.
Favorite game analyst/commentator? As long as he is not commenting a game with the Chiefs in it, Kevin Harlan. I may also add that my favorite commentator in Spanish broadcasts is Toño de Valdez in the Mexican network Televisa (he is cool… in spite of being a Raiders fan).
How did you choose your MHR handle? Sultan from the moniker of my hometown’s pro baseball club, Azteca as a nod to my cultural heritage.
If YOU were giving a tour of the Ring of Fame, who do you highlight?
I have been to Mile High only once, but I would surely mention Sharpe, Davis, and Atwater from the Shanahan era. Gradishar and Mecklenburg from earlier glory days. TYJE is eternal. Pat Bowlen is not a player, but I would speak at length about the wonders he did for the franchise while he owned it.
How did you become a Broncos fan?
I was 10 and only beginning to understand the game when I saw a player that did things with his arm, legs, and brain that no other player could do. I got hooked by his late game heroics. He seemed unstoppable. Of course, it was John Elway. Plus those beautiful blue helmets are still the best…